Coalinga Football

At the edge of Californiaís coast range mountains, surrounded by hills, ranches, and some of Americanís most productive agricultural land is Coalinga, California. In the year 1950, seven young men from the Overton County area made their presence known there as members of Coalinga College Falcons football team. In an article that appeared in a 1950 issue of The Livingston Enterprise, the playing abilities of these young men were described by Harry M. Rose, Jr., librarian at Coalinga District Library, and a football fan of Coalinga College, who had this to say about each player:

"Jack Keisling, Charles Lewis Bilbrey, A.J. Hawkins, Gerald Cravens, Melvin Johnson, Kenneth Rose and Roscoe Copeland have just finished playing an important part in leading the Coalinga College football team to the first league championship in the history of the school. Although the season is not yet over, the Falcons have already cinched their divisionsí title by defeating Porterville College, Santa Maria Junior College, San Luis Obispo Junior College, and Reedley College. They opened the season by tying the junior varsity from the University of California at Santa Barbara."

The article went on to describe the individual players in this manner: "Charlie Bilbrey is undoubtedly the outstanding broken field runner of the league. In every game where he has been able to play, he has broken away for several long runs, and is the leading candidate for the title of best ground gainer of the eleven."

"Jack Keisling, who was counted on very heavily at the beginning of the season, came down with appendicitis, and decided to wait until next year to play, so that he could have a full season to play."

"A.J. Hawkins came to Coalinga with an excellent reputation as a punter, and helped a lot when Jack was forced to quit this job. He (A.J.) was just beginning to put in a lot of play when he broke a couple of bones in his foot in the Reedley game, and so, he is out for the season."

"Gerald Cravens has been one of the most important men on the squad in his post at quarterback. Injuries kept him from seeing too much action in earlier games, but in the last two, he has seen considerable action."

"The work of Melvin Johnson at the guard spot has been outstanding, particularly when he has been playing in the same position as that held by one of the team co-captains, a 6'2" 225 pound giant from Coalinga. Melvinís spark and drive have meant that this big fellow can be replaced without the team losing any of its power."

"Speaking of some big fellows, tall Kenneth Rose is the tallest fellow in the entire team, and is definitely an asset when it comes to pass receiving and defensive play. Kenneth has had a lot of competition in his end spot, but has been able to gain the starting position in several games."

"Last, but not least, is big Roscoe Copeland, who has been starting at one of the tackle spots in all of the games so far. Roscoe has played steadily in all of the games, and in many cases has played nearly all of the game."

Someone reading this might wonder how in the world did these fellows end up playing college football in Coalinga, California, and the answer to that is that a former resident of Overton County, Charles Hampton Poindexter, or Chip, as everyone knew him as, lived there and was a member of the Coalinga school board. It was because of his encouragement that these young men went there to play. Gerald has a scrapbook filled with newspaper articles about the many games their team won while playing for Coalinga College.

Gerald described Coalinga as a place where many people from this area had gone to find jobs and had made their homes there. Many of these people would, on a very regular basis, invite the young men from Overton County into their homes for Sunday dinner. In addition to local people who lived in Coalinga that always had the welcome mat out to these Overton County fellows, Gerald also described most people in Coalinga as being very friendly, including members of Coalingaís law enforcement who would often invite some of them to ride along while they were on patrol.


While looking through Geraldís scrapbook, I also came across a newspaper article from The Livingston Enterprise dated June 11, 1948. The article was written about Livingstonís first Jr. Legion Baseball team. Listed as members of that team were: First Row: Lowell McDonald; Bill Winningham; Johnny Dickerson; John Kelly Wright; and Sam Brooks; Second row: Coach A.R. Ward, George Verble; Jimmy Phillips; Bill Speck; Gerry Gaw; Kenneth Dial, and Coach Jimmy Sells; Third row: John Beaty; Rex Beaty; Gerry Cravens; Lefty Watkins; and Sid Mathews. Absent for the picture were William "Bunny" Nevins and Arthur Thrasher. The article tells how the team was sparked by the outstanding play of Gerry Cravens, star infielder; Lefty Watkins, southpaw pitcher; and John Beaty, hustling catcher. It also describes the coaches as local amateur baseball players.


Whether on the playing field of Coalinga College or playing for Livingstonís First Legion baseball team, or as members of Livingston Academyís football and basketball teams, itís obvious this area saw lots of talented young men participate in sports. Itís also fun to look back and recognize names that I, as well as lots of other people, probably didnít have any idea were such outstanding athletes.

An upcoming event to look forward to in the year 2006 is Overton Countyís 200th birthday celebration. Plans are already underway, and it will be an event you wonít want to miss it.


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